The superfoods in this week’s spotlight are chlorella and spirulina. Some argue that these two are truly the best food sources on the planet. Studies have shown that consuming these two (especially together) natural and inexpensive superstars may kill breast cancer tumors, shrink other cancer tumors, correct a common nutritional deficiency that results in poor cardiovascular health and increased risk of osteoporosis, provide a complete protein (all eight essential amino acids) that's rarely found in the plant kingdom, contains far more calcium than milk, help regulate blood sugar and reduce cravings for carbohydrates, boosts brain function and increases mental capacity, remove heavy metals from the body (such as metals like mercury, cadmium, lead and arsenic), protect the nervous systems from damage caused by silver dental fillings, help the body repair DNA damage to boost its immune function, may reverse cancer, protect against arthritis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, and cardiovascular disease, and protect you from pesticides, PCBs, and other environmental toxins that are found in the vast majority of today's food supply.
Spirulina is classified as blue-green algae. It is one of a diverse group of microscopic plants rarely used for food, but spirulina is the exception. During the last 20 years, spirulina has been rediscovered as a potent food source and nutritional supplement.
It grows wild in warm freshwater ponds and lakes, high in mineral salts. Under the microscope it is made up of tiny spirals, (hence the name). It is now being cultivated all over the world, and is being consumed in over 75 countries.
Spirulina offers 60 - 70% all-vegetable protein, essential vitamins and phytonutrients such as the antioxidant beta carotene, the rare essential fatty acid Gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), sulfolipids, glycolipids and polysaccharides. Spirulina is rich in iron, magnesium and trace minerals, and is easier to absorb than iron supplements. It also contains very high levels of calcium – far more than milk. In addition, Spirulina is one of the few plant sources of vitamin B12.
Claims have been made for the possible therapeutic benefits of spirulina in cancer treatment and prevention, AIDS, immunodeficiency, hypertension, and weight loss.
Taken as a powder (most popular), spirulina is available as a powder, capsule and in tablet form for human consumption.
Chlorella was the first of the algae to interest scientists in the 1960s. It is one of the green algae and possesses a hard cellulose cell wall typical of plants. In order for the nutritional value of Chlorella to be realized, it is necessary to break down the cell wall to make it digestible. There are question marks over the final quality of its nutritional content when Chlorella is processed in any way. Large scale production of chlorella as a food therefore has given way to its production as a nutritional supplement and attention has been focused on other perceived or claimed health benefits.
Chlorella’s impressive nutritional content includes, high protein content of around 58%, but not as high as the 60 – 70% of spirulina, is a complete protein and has been used as a nutritional supplement for animals, as well as more recently as a health supplement.
Chlorella contains high levels of calcium and iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc and traces of iodine.
It also contains GLA (Gamma linoleic acid) and other essential fatty acids.
It contains vitamins B1, B2, B6 and B12, C and E, folic acid, inositol, niacin and pantothenic acid.
It is also the richest source of chlorophyll yet known, which is useful in ridding the body of toxins, including heavy metals (like mercury in dental fillings), cleansing of the bowel, liver and bloodstream. All green leafy vegetables contain chlorophyll, but none as much as chlorella, gram for gram.
Research has also been conducted on the use of chlorella to improve cold and flu symptoms and to boost the immune system. There is some evidence that it can help in wound healing and in reducing high blood pressure.
In addition scientists have claimed to have found something called ‘chlorella growth factor’ which is produced during the very rapid growth of the algae. It is made up of nucleic acid derivatives and 10% RNA and 3% DNA have been found within chlorella. The suggestion is that these nucleic acids once digested and absorbed by the human body can encourage repair of human genetic material and therefore slow down the aging process.
Chlorella was the first green algae to be cultivated commercially and was the first large scale attempt at growing algae for food. In the early days, it proved to be much more expensive and complex than originally thought.
There are still some disadvantages of chlorella production over spirulina production. Chlorella grows in waters where other so called ‘weed’ algae thrive and the crop may be more easily contaminated. It also requires more sophisticated equipment to harvest and process, because of its tiny size.
Spirulina, on the other hand grows in highly alkaline waters where few other organisms can flourish. There is less likelihood therefore of contamination and relatively simple equipment and procedures can be used to effectively grow, harvest and process the crop.
Nowadays, chlorella is grown as a nutritional supplement and much more emphasis is being placed on its potential to detoxify and heal the body. Chlorella and spirulina can often be found together in the same product, though they can be found separately as well.
Sources: allstarhealth.com, naturalnews.com, mercola.com